What is the reality behind gender stereotypes? Let’s examine some of the similarities and differences between the sexes, keeping in mind that (1) the differences are averages — not all females versus all males; (2) even when differences are reported, there is considerable overlap between the sexes; and (3) the differences may be due primarily to biological factors, sociocultural factors, or both. First, we will examine physical similarities and differences, and then we will turn to cognitive and socioemotional similarities and differences.
Physical Development Women have about twice the body fat of men, most of it concentrated around their breasts and hips. In males, fat is more likely to go to the abdomen. On the average, males grow to be 10 percent taller than females. Other physical differences are less obvious. From conception on, females have a longer life expectancy than males, and females are less likely than males to develop physical or mental disorders. Males have twice the risk of coronary disease as females.
Does gender matter when it comes to brain structure and function? Human brains are much alike, whether the brain belongs to a male or a female (Halpern & others, 2007). However, researchers have found some differences in the brains of males and females (Hofer & others, 2007). For example, female brains are smaller than male brains, but female brains have more folds; the larger folds (called convolutions) allow more surface brain tissue within the skulls of females than males (Luders & others, 2004). An area of the parietal lobe that functions in visuospatial skills is larger in males than females (Frederikse & others, 2000). And the areas of the brain involved in emotional expression show more metabolic activity in females than males (Gur & others, 1995).
Although some differences in brain structure and function have been found, many of these differences are small or research is inconsistent regarding the differences. Also, when sex differences in the brain have been revealed, in many cases they have not been directly linked to psychological differences (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Although research on sex differences in the brain is still in its infancy, it is likely that there are far more similarities than differences in the brains of females and males. A further point is worth noting: Anatomical sex differences in the brain may be due to the biological origins of these differences, behavioral experiences (which underscores the brain’s continuing plasticity), or a combination of these factors.
Cognitive Development No gender differences in general intelligence have been revealed, but some gender differences have been found in some cognitive areas (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Research has shown that in general girls and women have slightly better verbal skills than boys and men, although in some verbal skill areas the differences are substantial (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). For example, in recent national assessments,girls were significantly better than boys in reading and writing (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005, 2007). Are there gender differences in math skills? A recent very large-scale study of more than 7 million U.S. students in grades 2 through 11 revealed no differences in math test scores for boys and girls (Hyde & others, 2008). And a recent meta-analysis found no gender differences in math for adolescents (Lindberg & others, 2010). A recent research review concluded that girls have more negative math attitudes and that parents’ and teachers’ expectancies for children’s math competence are often gender-biased in favor of boys (Gunderson & others, 2012).
One area of math that has been examined for possible gender differences is visuospatial skills, which include being able to rotate objects mentally and to determine what they would look like when rotated (Halpern, 2012). These types of skills are important in courses such as plane and solid geometry and geography. A recent research review revealed that boys have better visuospatial skills than girls (Halpern & others, 2007). For example, despite equal participation in the National Geography Bee, in most years all 10 finalists are boys (Liben, 1995). However, some experts argue that the gender difference in visuospatial skills is small (Hyde, 2007; Hyde & Else-Quest, 2013) (see Figure 10.3).
Socioemotional Development Three areas of socioemotional development in which gender similarities and differences have been studied extensively are aggression, emotion, and prosocial behavior. One of the most consistent gender differences is that boys are more physically aggressive than girls are (Coyne, Nelson, & Underwood, 2011). The difference occurs in all cultures and appears very early in children’s development (White, 2001). The physical aggression difference is especially pronounced when children are provoked. Both biological and environmental factors have been proposed to account for gender differences in aggression. Biological factors include heredity and hormones. Environmental factors include cultural expectations, adult and peer models, and social agents that reward aggression in boys and punish aggression in girls.
Although boys are consistently more physically aggressive than girls, might girls show levels of verbal aggression, such as yelling, that equal or exceed the levels shown by boys? When verbal aggression is considered, gender differences often disappear, although sometimes verbal aggression is more pronounced in girls (Eagly & Steffen, 1986).
Recently, increased attention has been directed to relational aggression, which involves harming someone by manipulating a relationship. Relational aggression includes such behaviors as spreading malicious rumors about someone in order to make others dislike that person (Kawabata & others, 2012; Underwood, 2004, 2011). Relational aggression increases in middle and late childhood (Dishion & Piehler, 2009). Mixed findings have characterized research on whether girls show more relational aggression than boys, but one consistent finding is that relational aggression comprises a greater percentage of girls’ overall aggression than is the casefor boys (Putallaz & others, 2007). And a recent research review revealed that girls engage in more relational aggression than boys in adolescence but not in childhood (Smith, Rose, & Schwartz-Mette, 2010).
Gender differences occur in some aspects of emotion (Leaper & Bigler, 2011; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). Females express emotion more than do males, are better than males at decoding emotion, smile more, cry more, and are happier (Gross, Fredrickson, & Levenson, 1994; LaFrance, Hecht, & Paluck, 2003). Males report experiencing and expressing more anger than do females (Kring, 2000).
An important skill is to be able to regulate and control one’s emotions and behavior (Thompson, Winer, & Goodvin, 2011). Boys usually show less self-regulation than girls (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010). Th is low self-control can translate into behavior problems.
Are there gender differences in prosocial behavior? Females view themselves as more prosocial and empathic (Eisenberg & Morris, 2004). Across childhood and adolescence, females engage in more prosocial behavior (Hastings, Utendale, & Sullivan, 2007). The biggest gender difference occurs for kind and considerate behavior, with a smaller difference in sharing.
According to Carol Gilligan’s theory, many females are more sensitive about relationships and have better relationship skills than males do.